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August 25, 2009

Video review: Berlin Babylon


Kush Patel, graduate student in Architectural Design Studies at the University of Michigan, reviews a video available to borrow from the VRC:

Berlin Babylon is a 2001 film focusing on the changing urbanscape of Berlin after the fall of the infamous Wall in 1989. The film opens with the following text:
“The future of Babylon was in the hands of craftsmen who were not afraid to tackle a burden of any dimension. They were determined to finish what they had started even though their tongues became confused during construction (…).”

This opening text outlines both the context and the spirit of this beautiful photo documentary made by Hubertus Siegert with industrial music by Einstürzende Neubauten. The film is a collage of sites, conversations, nostalgic memories, people, aspirations, concerns and general hullabaloo concerning tonnes of new projects on the once touted longest and continuous construction site in Europe.
The overall sequence is non-linear, moving between sites and time with time-lapse photography and stock footage of post-war demolitions. The actors include local builders, developers, construction workers and site managers standing as equals among and around notable architects like I.M.Pei, Rem Koolhaas, Renzo Piano and Helmut Jahn. What's appealing about this film is that it does not seek to profile individual architects through their winning projects. Instead, it weaves together the popular with the everyday, the persona with the real and the grand conceptions with the on-ground challenges: creating a rich and rather melancholic tapestry of urbanism, both conceived and lived.

The film is loud and yet for most part, seemingly quiet and surreal. Einstürzende Neubauten's music adds to this paradox - moving from construction clamour to more elegant compositions and back. The camera and the sounds help enliven the moment when the Wall fell, and the prospect to build a bigger and a brighter tomorrow, arose. It captures the spirit of architecture and its inherent responsibility of building hope and aspiration. Siegart has produced a masterpiece of a documentary. A collectable and a must watch!

Posted by sgarrett at August 25, 2009 10:12 AM

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